Is it medical interpreter, or healthcare interpreter?

June 26, 2014 § 5 Comments

Dear colleagues:

I have struggled with the issue of how to refer to a growing number of our colleagues whose work mainly takes place in hospitals, clinics, or medical and dental offices. Their primary function is to enable communication between a person who does not speak the language of the land and a healthcare provider: physician, dentist, nurse, psychologist, paramedic, and other support staff. As you all know, this area of interpretation has been around for some time, but it has just become formally regulated in the recent past. Because of globalization and its migration consequences, now many countries experience the need to have somebody to bridge the gap of communication that has developed between native speakers and immigrant communities. These developments have augmented the need for court interpreters, legal translators, school interpreters and many others; the healthcare field has not been an exception; in fact, this is the area where we can appreciate the most dramatic changes to the old “business as usual” format. Unlike other interpreting specialties, like conference, military and court interpreting, which have been around for a long time, these new service providers just organized a few years ago. Great efforts and devotion on the part of some individuals have produced important results like the creation of professional associations, the adoption of ethical and professional responsibility canons, and the development of certification programs and examinations. This is truly admirable.

There are two organizations in the United States that have emerged as standard-bearers of this profession: The International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) which endorses the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters exam, and the Certification Commission of Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI).

Keeping in mind the services provided by these professionals (based on the organizations’ websites, several hospitals’ information, and conversations with many of my esteemed colleagues) I reviewed all information I could find on the two certification exams that test English, professional conduct and ethics. To a lesser degree they test some medical-related vocabulary that a true bilingual individual should know, without any medical or pharmacological terminology studies, and they include very short paragraphs, or vignettes as one of the test refers to them, where patient and healthcare provider communicate regarding the symptoms that the non-native speaker is experiencing. The dialogue is an everyday conversation at a moderate to low register. Finally, I also noticed that the main part of the score overwhelmingly goes to the consecutive interpretation, leaving simultaneous and sight translation at about 10 to 15 percent each.

I am convinced that the work these colleagues do is essential to the healthcare industry and well-being of those individuals who otherwise would see their chances of receiving appropriate services diminished by reason of the language they speak. Nobody is disputing this. I also applaud the conditions under which they constantly work in hospitals, emergency rooms, and urgent care facilities where people perform under great stress. The writing of this post was simply motivated by my need to find a term I can feel comfortable with when referring to my colleagues, but before I am ready to form an opinion I should also consider what the rest of the world is doing and saying on this issue.

In Europe the services performed by our medical interpreters are part of what is known as public service interpreting or community interpreting in some countries. This public service interpreting also covers legal interpreting but not court interpreting as I will explain in a moment.

Public service interpreting refers to those services provided by an interpreter to help two individuals who speak different languages so they can communicate regarding everyday affairs, personal issues, including important topics, in cases when individuals who speak the same language would usually speak for themselves, but in this particular situation, because of the language difference, and cultural considerations, an interpreter is needed.

My dear friends and colleagues, conference interpreters provide their services to make it possible for individuals who do not speak the same language to communicate, by interpreting almost exclusively on the simultaneous mode, complex information at a high register. Their audience is usually formally educated. Court interpreters provide their services in cases when one or more individuals do not speak the language employed in court, to make it possible for officers of the court, litigants, jurors, and others, to communicate on the simultaneous, consecutive, whispered, and sight translation modes, everyday information, complex legal concepts and terminology, and expert witness testimony, at a variety of register levels.

Now I ask you to contrast these job descriptions with the job that public service interpreters such as school interpreters, welfare services interpreters, church interpreters, and community organization interpreters do. These professionals (and sometimes paraprofessionals that may include a family member) provide their services so that individuals who do not share the same language can communicate about important everyday matters such as parent-teacher conferences, services provided by religious organizations, and dealings with government agencies at the customer service window or over the phone. This work is almost exclusively performed on the consecutive mode, unlike court interpreting, and there are no formal rules to keep the interpreter from asking questions and give explanations to facilitate the communication. The main objective is to bridge the language gap without any consideration for rules of evidence or procedure. These interpreters can interrupt the parties and ask them to speak slower or in shorter sentences. While conference and court interpreters work with complicated and sometimes rarely used words as part of their everyday job, public service interpreters work with common vocabulary; not simple words, but words that anyone with a certain level of formal education, regardless of any interpreting training, should know.

This explains why we occasionally see conference interpreters in the courtroom and court interpreters in the booth. It also explains why conference interpreters, and not medical interpreters, interpret medical and pharmaceutical conferences; and why court interpreters, not medical interpreters, interpret the expert testimony of a pathologist or other medical professional during a trial.

I mentioned earlier that there was a difference between court and legal interpreters in many countries, and why the latter are considered public sector interpreters: A court interpreter provides her services in a formal court setting and during out of court events that are related to a current or future court or legal proceeding. A legal interpreter assists an individual who needs help with his dealings with the authority, such as getting a driver’s license, applying for government benefits, or requesting government documents. These interpreters are clearly outside the scope of the very strict canons of ethics and professional responsibility that govern the activity of court interpreters. Just as we may encounter a conference interpreter in court or a court interpreter in the booth, we may find a school interpreter or a medical interpreter in a government agency assisting a foreign language speaker with some excruciating government administrative process. I hope the example clarifies the issue, but I also ask you to look at this very carefully, because there are some who would like to assimilate the services provided by a court interpreter outside a courtroom to those of a public service or community interpreter; they would argue that these services are “legal” and not court services. They are wrong.

They are wrong because the terminology of legal versus court interpreter that was valid in the past does not apply to our globalized world. When most countries had a written legal system there was very little work for a court interpreter. In those days legal translators did most of the court work because everything was done in writing. Legal interpreters were then relegated to in-office interviews and customer service windows. If you consider that migration was less popular than it is now, then you would have a very low demand for court or even legal interpreters. Lack of migration did not impact legal translators who had to translate official documents, contracts, deeds, and many other written statements that originated within the other country. At the time the legal interpreter was really a community or public service interpreter. That reality is so different from ours. Presently, an interpreter who works before an administrative law judge, such as an immigration court, workers’ compensation court, or social security court, is subject to the same ethical and professional rules as the court interpreter who appears before a traditional court. The fact that some jurisdictions allow for non-certified or licensed interpreters to provide their services in administrative law courts does not mean that community interpreters should do the job. These courts still abide by rules of evidence and procedure, the interpreter has to act as if working before the traditional judiciary, the job must be done at a higher register, with specialized complex legal terminology, and on a simultaneous interpreting mode that does not allow to stop the procedure so the interpreter can request the litigants to slow down, or a consecutive rendition where the interpreter cannot ask the parties to speak in shorter sentences. The same can be said for civil depositions, jailhouse visits, and the transcription of wiretaps. On the other hand, those individuals who are appearing before the motor vehicle office are better off employing the services of a community interpreter because this professional knows more about handling situations where the interpreter has the freedom to step outside the box to achieve communication between the parties.

After considering all of these concepts and possible scenarios, and after reviewing the materials I have mentioned before, I understand that there are arguments to be made for the term medical interpreter, but I just do not believe that in my book that would be accurate. I think that the appropriate and accurate way to describe this very important segment of our profession is the one adopted by the Certification Commission of Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI). For this reason, I believe that we should call our colleagues Healthcare Interpreters instead of Medical Interpreters. Please let us all know your comments on this issue that to some may seem irrelevant, but is actually very important.

Beware of the bottom feeders of the profession.

May 27, 2014 § 9 Comments

Dear colleagues:

I was contacted by one of my friends not long ago; a colleague interpreter who wanted to share with me an all too familiar story about certain individuals that for years, I have referred to as the bottom feeders of the profession. I had heard similar stories, I am sure that you have heard them as well, and in fact, to illustrate the point, and because this is business, during my own professional career I have encountered some examples of these creatures here and there. It is not my intention to offend anybody, I just want to underline the contrast between these individuals and a good, responsible professional interpreter who understands that this is a business. I will describe the specimen in a moment, but to clearly explain the unique characteristics of these despicable beings, please let me share my friend’s story first:

“Once upon a time there was a penny-pincher language agency that had an event where some of the participants did not speak the native language, so the agency needed to hire interpreters. At the same time that the agency was learning the details of the event, a very good, hard working, and kind interpreter who was loved by her colleagues, admired by her peers, and sought after by her clients, was sitting in front of her computer invoicing some nefarious clients who just could not pay their bills on time because of religious reasons; you see: they were worshippers of the verb procrastination. While she wrestled with the idea of suing them or not, her phone rang. It was the penny-pincher agency. They asked her if she would be willing to provide her interpretation services for the event they just had booked that same morning. They explained that the event would be in a different town, and they offered to pay the same fee the good interpreter was paid on the last time they had retained her services. The good interpreter checked her agenda and noticed that she was available on the requested dates, and since the event that was described to her sounded pretty much like the one she had done for the penny-pincher agency before, she agreed to the same fee plus travel expenses. It was all good, friendly and civilized, so the penny-pincher agency asked the good interpreter for a referral for the second interpreter who would share the booth with the good interpreter. Because the good interpreter did not know the schedule of any other interpreter, she provided three names and contact information of colleagues she had worked with in the past and felt like she could recommend as good professional interpreters who would provide an excellent service. The penny-pincher agency thanked the good interpreter and hung up.

Two days later, while the good interpreter was at her attorney’s office waiting to talk to him about suing some of the members of the procrastination cult, she got a phone call from the penny-pincher agency. She was told that the interpreters she had suggested had been contacted but that they were too expensive. They told her that instead of the colleagues she had recommended they had found this other individual who was willing to work for a much lower fee. The penny-pincher agency said that they would rather hire this person, but they wanted to know first if the good interpreter knew the individual and if this was a person she would feel comfortable with. When the good interpreter heard the name of the less-expensive individual she almost fell to the ground. They were asking her to work with pariah-interpreter, a person who was well-known for charging very little and delivering even less. The good interpreter immediately explained her concerns; she informed the penny-pincher agency that pariah-interpreter was not a conference interpreter; that people like pariah-interpreter puffed-up their credentials by including community interpreting as conference work in their resume. The good interpreter even explained that interpreting at a church meeting or a community center with a microphone on top of a table with no booth, no power point, no presenters or speakers, was an honorable job, but it was light-years away from being conference interpreting. She even conveyed to penny-pincher agency how pariah-interpreter was regarded as a terrible professional by all reputable interpreters, and how she would always work with mediocre people in order to avoid scrutiny by real professional interpreters. The good interpreter even provided the names of other good reliable colleagues who lived in the town where the event was to take place explaining to penny-pincher agency that this way they could save money on travel costs and still get top-quality interpretation. She even brought up the fact that pariah-interpreter would have to travel to the place of the event because she lived in a different state. Penny-pincher agency thanked the good interpreter and hung up. A week later the good interpreter was notified by email that her services for that event were no longer needed. That was it.

Good interpreter was not happy about the whole thing, but after all, a seasoned experienced professional that she was, she knew that these things happen when you get pariah-interpreter and penny-pincher agency together in the same project. Fortunately for her, it turned out that she was retained for another assignment that actually paid better and was on a more interesting subject matter. Because the world of language services is so small and so well-communicated, it wasn’t long before the good interpreter found out that penny-pincher agency had hired pariah-interpreter and one of her peers: earthworm-interpreter to do the job; that they had paid for the services of both of this “exceptional” individuals less than the fee they were going to pay for the good interpreter, and that despite the complaints and bad reviews by the people who attended the event and required of interpretation services, penny-pincher agency was happy with the services of pariah-interpreter and earthworm-interpreter because they met the requirement of having two interpreters in the booth, and sooner or later those attending the events would have to get used to the “natural” limitations of the interpreters who “after all are humans.” So goes the story dear friends and colleagues: penny-pincher agency lived happily and richer but not ever after, only until a conference organizer sued them for hiring the lowest of the low professionals, and took them to the cleaners.   The good interpreter continues to work for a professional fee, takes care of her clients, and she now refuses to waste her valuable time trying to convince the likes of penny-pincher agency that you cannot get wine from a rock. Oh, and pariah-interpreter, earthworm-interpreter and the rest of their clan continue to live happily ever after, as long as your definition of happiness includes working for peanuts, being ignored by all real professional interpreters, and having an empty bank account. The end.”

Of course my friend did not tell me the story this way, but I wanted to have some fun with these despicable characters. These are the bottom feeders in my book. I have discussed them and mentioned them many times in this blog and during my lectures, workshops and presentations; many of you know that they forever have a special place on my “Ten worst” lists, and those of you who know me in person know how I try to interact with them as little as possible.

Let’s make it very clear that I am against working for peanuts, I oppose lowering fees for the sake of getting the client; but I am also a teacher and a colleague, and as many of you know, I spend hours with new and reluctant colleagues trying to explain to them the economics of the profession and the adverse effects of working for rock bottom fees. I would never classify one of these colleagues as a bottom feeder unless he or she earns the title.

I am sure that as you read the story above, you immediately identified the bottom feeders in your environment and made a mental list. That is great. I encourage you to do so, but first look with objectivity at each individual, and then make your decision. It is a detailed process but it is one we all need to do, and we must do it without any emotional consideration. This is a business-related exercise.

Find your pariah-interpreters and translators and ice them. Do not work with them; do not invite them to any professional activities. Remember: They would take any opportunity to associate with you even if it is to have a photo-op or a name association that they will be able to exploit later on. You do not need them; they are not your competition. They do not play in the same league that you do. Their clients are not, and will never be, your clients. You don’t look for a brand new Ferrari in a junk yard. Leave the junk yard to them. If you ignore them they will not hurt you professionally, and hopefully you will soon forget them, but if out of pity or misunderstood “compassion” you continue to look for them, their fame and reputation will stain your name. Beware of the bottom feeders.

I now invite you to share your ideas as to how to shield yourself from these hazardous individuals, and please abstain from comments defending these individuals. This forum will not give them a voice.

Many medical interpreters are missing out on a prestigious and profitable field.

March 16, 2014 § 21 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Last year I interpreted for several medical and pharmaceutical conferences.  Some were presentations of scientific papers before an audience of  peers, others were geared to non-physicians who work in the pharmaceutical field.  All of them were interesting and they all paid well.  They also had something else in common:  There were absolutely no medical interpreters or former medical interpreters in any of the booths.  As I sat in the Spanish booth during a conference on the 98th floor of the Hancock Building in Chicago, I examined all the booths for the other languages and realized that there were excellent, very dedicated professional conference interpreters everywhere.  I knew the interpretation was going to be top-notch, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were no medical doctors, registered nurses, or medical interpreters anywhere.

My friends, conference interpreters are second to none as far as quality and professionalism; they prepare for every assignment and show up to work equipped with the experience, knowledge, and skill needed to take care of just about any possible situation that may arise during the assignment.  A conference where real conference interpreters are hired to work could not be in better hands.  However, even though the same can be said of any other subject matter, in the United States, and other countries, you can find former attorneys and court interpreters in many events that deal with legal and business issues.  Medical interpreting attracts hundreds of interpreters in the United States alone.  Every day these professionals work in hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, and medical offices, so the logical question is: Why this does not happen in the medical conferences?

I do not have a general answer, but based on my observations and years in the profession I can bring up the following factors:

There are several very capable medical interpreters who regularly work as conference interpreters.  I know this because some of them are my friends and I have shared the booth with many.  The problem is that there are not enough of them.  Please understand that here I am referring to what is generally recognized as conference interpreting, and purposely excluding community interpreting even though some colleagues, in my opinion erroneously, on occasion refer to this boothless informal interpretation as conference.

Compared to legal interpreters, medical interpreters have a tougher time “breaking away” from medical interpreting because there is a widely shared concept that medical interpreters are not good or professional.  This is a belief that many agencies, and even other interpreters, share.

Now, we have to recognize that this characterization of the medical interpreter profession has some truth to it.  At least in the United States until fairly recently there was no regulation or minimal standards in medical interpreting.  Many bilinguals who failed the court interpreter certification went to the medical field because there were no rules and often no quality control.  Because the conditions were so poor in this unchartered territory, many language agencies filled the void by taking over most of the things needed to provide a medical interpreting service.  They were setting policy and criteria as far as who could work, how they could work, and more importantly, how much these interpreters would be paid.  For years I heard this all over the United States: “Medical interpreting? No way! It pays nothing.”  Unfortunately my friends and colleagues, that was (and regrettably still is) the case.

So there you have it.  Most interpreters who had invested time and money studying and getting themselves ready to practice their profession did not want to work for very little pay.  This scared many good people away from the field.

There is much to be done at this time. Too many doctors and hospital administrators to educate, too many bad agencies to expel from the field, and too many mediocre interpreters to push to the side so there is room for those, new and experienced professionals, willing to play ball under the new rules of certification, ethics and uniformity.

It is certain that the profession will continue to grow and will eventually catch up with older interpreting fields such as conference, diplomatic, court, and military interpreting.  As this happens, medical interpreting will attract more capable professionals, competition will be brutal like in all profitable professional environments, and interpreting fees will dramatically increase.  In the meantime during the process, and in my opinion, to enhance our professional versatility and skills, good medical interpreters who want to elevate their profession, better themselves, and receive a fair decent compensation for their service will have to look at expanding their practice.  To achieve this goal you basically have two options:  The less complicated possibility of doing medical-related work that up until now, with some exceptions, has been handled by court interpreters:  interpreting for independent medical examinations and evaluations specifically done for litigation purposes in the area of worker’s compensation and civil law.  Medical interpreters should be able to learn and provide these services by taking advantage of their medical knowledge.  The sad part is that this field, like most of the medical interpretation field, is controlled by agencies that pay very little. In fact, they are many times the same agencies that hire interpreters for medical work.

The second option, and my motivation for writing this piece, is conference interpreting.  Undoubtedly a more difficult goal.  Medical conferences require of knowledge in the medical, biological, and pharmacological sciences.  Good medical interpreters should already have it, especially if they have a medical or nursing background.  It also requires familiarity with the “medical culture.”  Medical interpreters come in contact with it on a daily basis.

Conference interpreter also requires that the professional providing these services be able to do it simultaneously. It demands agility of mind and speedy thinking while handling very complex concepts and precise terminology.  It requires of booth etiquette and assignment preparation, and it must be performed as a team.  Most if not all of these characteristics are not part of an everyday medical interpreter repertoire.  It sounds hard and complicated because it is very difficult and extremely sophisticated work.

However, my dear friends and colleagues, the rewards are enormous: you get to develop as an interpreter by acquiring the master key that opens the door to all interpreting work: simultaneous rendition. Working as the interpreter for a medical conference you will earn amounts never seen in the medical interpreting field, and you will learn about the science and policy that is applied to hospitals, medical practitioners, and insurance companies every day.  As conference interpreters you will experience the satisfaction of doing a job that is understood by all those who are listening as part of your sophisticated audience.  Now, you may say that conference interpreting will not give you the satisfaction of helping to save a life, of being a part of preventing a disease; that you decided to become a medical interpreter for this reason.  That is not true. As a medical conference interpreter you will be right in the middle of saving lives as the interpreter who reveals a medical breakthrough for the first time in your language pair; you will be the voice of physicians who will ask questions about a new drug or procedure; and of course, keep in mind that you will not stop medical interpreting. You will diversify your practice and widen your clientele.  I look forward to the time when I regularly get to share the booth of a medical conference with a professional and highly capable interpreter with a medical interpreting background.   I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions about this very important professional aspect of our profession.

Should Consecutive Interpretation Disappear From Court?

November 4, 2013 § 15 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Every time I write about some issue that involves consecutive interpretation in court, I get a considerable number of comments arguing for the disappearance of this mode of interpretation. Whether it is because of how difficult it is to render it, or due to some legal issue, the fact is that the number of interpreters, and courts, moving away from consecutive interpretation from the witness stand is growing every day.

Currently, there are many courthouses in the United States where the interpretation of a witness’ testimony is done consecutaneously: The attorney’s question is interpreted simultaneously by an interpreter sitting (or standing) next to the witness and the answer is rendered consecutively by the same interpreter.  Other courthouses are using one interpreter for the simultaneous interpretation of the question, with the help of interpretation equipment, and a second interpreter, sitting (or standing) next to the witness, who renders the answers consecutively. The feedback from both systems, as far as I have heard, is positive.  Apparently this approach solves the problems presented by the way cross-examination is phrased, keeps the jury focused on the witness, and not on the interpreter, and eliminates the unfair advantage that some witnesses have in cases when they speak some English, but prefer to employ the services of an interpreter,  thus having an opportunity to reflect on their answer to a question while they “listen” to the interpreter’s rendition of said question.  It is also true that this is not a “bulletproof” solution. Consecutaneous interpretation from the witness stand can be confusing to some lay witnesses; and in the case of different interpreters for questions and answers, it could present a problem when both, the question interpreter and the answer interpreter interpret correctly but using a different term.   For what I hear, judges and court administrators love consecutaneous interpretation because it saves a lot of trial time, as the time for the consecutive rendition is eliminated altogether.

I must confess that for a long time I was a “purist” who opposed consecutaneous interpretation in the courtroom. Although I still dislike consecutaneous interpretation, I have changed my mind.  Now I believe that in this world full of technology, where we go to the booth with nothing but an iPad, where we can do a word search in seconds, where we can interpret remotely from a different continent, we need to take advantage of everything that exists out there.  The technology for simultaneous interpretation of a witness testimony already exists. I dislike consecutaneous interpretation not because I want to keep the consecutive mode for the witness stand. I dislike it because I think that we interpreters deserve better, the court deserves better, and the witness deserves the best possible access to the source language: simultaneous interpretation.  Real time interpretation of everything that happens during the hearing or trial.  Let us leave consecutive interpretation where it is needed: escort interpretation, jail visits, and some aspects of medical and community interpreting.

In an era where many hearings are held with the defendant appearing remotely by video, and attorneys file their pleadings electronically, there is no excuse to keep interpreting back in the Stone Age.  There is no reason why the witness, judge, attorneys and jury cannot have access to a headset to hear in their native language the questions and answers.  The argument that it is too complicated, that these people will be distracted by the equipment, is absurd. We are talking about the same people who drove themselves to court while listening to the radio or talking to their kids on the back seat of the car. We are talking about the same people who talk and text, walk and surf the net at the same time.  Learning how to switch a button on and off is not brain surgery; moreover, they can just remove the headset when they don’t need to use it.  By the way, this would also eliminate the distraction of having the interpreter next to the witness. It would remove the distraction of the interpreter’s whispering from the courtroom as we could be working from a booth like in all other venues where we render our services, and it would ensure more accuracy as we will be able to hear everything better from the booth. Will this cost money? Yes it will. Will these changes take time? Of course they will.  It is all true, but at some point in time we have to start.  Maybe if we start now the new courthouses will be designed and built with a booth.  In new colleges and universities classrooms are built this way.  Perhaps it will be other court systems that take the first steps towards this best solution.  Many countries are switching over to the oral proceedings. They are building new courthouses. Maybe they can be the pioneers. Maybe the European courts will be the frontrunners now that they are implementing their new court interpreter system.

The point is, dear colleagues, it is clear that we need to move towards full simultaneous interpretation of all court proceedings. All that remains to be decided is when we start and where we take the first steps.  Please share your comments and opinions on this issue.

Finally a movie that shows interpreters doing what they really do.

February 18, 2013 § 3 Comments

Dear colleagues:

Several weeks ago I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.” Like many others, I was focused on the screen fascinated by such a successful mission of our intelligence and military forces, but I had an additional reason to be happy with the movie. Bigelow and Mark Boal, the screenplay author, stuck to authenticity and historical accuracy by including and showing the role of the military interpreter.  I figured that on this Academy Award week when everybody will be talking about movies, I should bring to all of my colleagues’ attention the very positive depiction of our profession in this film.  It feels so good to see how the profession is acknowledged as an integral and essential part of the mission, and how the interpreters are shown performing their services instead of acting like a United Nations James Bond of the booth as we were portrayed on another movie that had nothing to do with interpreting but the title.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a movie, not a documentary. Its main goal is to sell tickets and entertain, therefore, it shows interpreters in action at different parts of the movie, not all the time. Already a long movie, it would have been longer (and boring) with interpreters in every situation they were required; however, it gives the viewer a good idea of how important the military interpreter was to the operation. There is one scene where an interrogation is being conducted through an interpreter performing (as it happens in the real world) a consecutive rendition. And of course, there is the sequence at the end of the movie when during the raid a navy seal turns to the interpreter and tells him to ask a young woman if the man they just shot was Bin Laden. You see the interpreter (previously seen getting off the chopper in full gear alongside the seals) pulling the woman aside, asking her, and reporting back to his superior.

I also believe that this movie helps other interpreters not in the military field to understand what a military interpreter does. Despite previous posts where I have (and many of you have) explained how military interpreters are not neutral because one of the parties they interpret for is the enemy whose defeat is essential, this blog has seen many opinions by colleagues stating that military interpreters should be impartial, that they should convey the idea to all parties that they are neutral, and that military interpreters should interpret everything because that is the only way for both parties to communicate.   This movie illustrates what a military interpreter does, how they work in full gear with a weapon, how they interpret for one party (their commander) and only inform the other party what he has been instructed to let him know. It also shows the difference between a military interpreter who works in a conflict zone, and those military interpreters who provide community (not military) interpreter services in the event of an evacuation due to a natural disaster, or any other type of relief, including helping civilians in countries at war with the military forces they work for.  I would love to see your comments about the portrayal of these military interpreters in the film, or if you prefer, your comments about any other movie where interpreters were showcased.

Tal vez el futuro de la interpretación no está en el poder judicial.

January 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

Queridos colegas,

Muchos eventos que se han dado en la interpretación judicial en los últimos tiempos me han hecho ver que el futuro de la profesión tal vez no incluya la interpretación judicial.  Nótese que no estoy diciendo interpretación jurídica, solo judicial.

Como muchos saben, durante los últimos años, y por múltiples razones, los poderes judiciales en general se han enfocado en la eliminación de tantas horas-intérprete como sea posible. Para ello, se han incorporado a la interpretación judicial muchas opciones que antes no existían; contratos de la autoridad judicial con una agencia de traducción e interpretación para obtener intérpretes más baratos es una de las más evidentes, ya sea a nivel municipal, estatal y hasta a nivel federal con los juzgados de migración en los Estados Unidos y el famoso caso de ALS en el Reino Unido.  También los avances tecnológicos han permitido la incorporación y casi-perfeccionamiento de la interpretación por video que actualmente se practica en casi todos los estados de los Estados Unidos, incluyendo los juzgados federales y administrativos.  La tendencia de los poderes judiciales estatales y federal es la de contratar más intérpretes de planta, de preferencia nuevos a la profesión para no tener que pagarles tanto y para que su vida institucional sea más larga, o sea para que el estado recupere su inversión, y contratar menos intérpretes contratistas independientes ya que estos últimos, o sea ustedes, saldrían más caros que los de planta.  Ejemplo: Si un juicio pasa de las 5 de la tarde, el intérprete contratista va a cobrar más caro por el tiempo extra, el intérprete de planta no recibe dinero, le acreditan unas horas en su expediente para que algún día, en que casi no haya trabajo y puedan prescindir de él, se tome el día libre. Eso es todo.

Si a esto le aunamos el hecho que cada día más sistemas judiciales están brindando servicios de interpretación en áreas que antes no cubrían, tales como casos civiles, administrativos, etcétera, y el hecho que cada día hay más intérpretes certificados, por diseño del poder judicial para inundar el mercado de oferta y así tener la opción de contratar al más nuevo y por ello menos costoso,  forzosamente llegamos a la conclusión que eventualmente y no dentro de mucho, la interpretación judicial en la que se han concentrado y encasillado muchos de nuestros colegas va a terminarse para todos los efectos prácticos y relevantes.  No estoy diciendo que esto va a suceder inmediatamente, pero en unos años los juzgados solo van a contratar a unos cuantos y les van a pagar muy poco, ese es el esquema que están siguiendo y esas son las leyes de mercado.

¿Eso es malo? Desde luego que a mi parecer es bueno. Después de todo el gobierno tiene que actuar responsablemente con nuestro dinero. No nos olvidemos que también somos contribuyentes. ¿Es bueno para la profesión? Desde luego que es malo para la interpretación judicial ya que en muchos casos la calidad del servicio profesional se verá seriamente coartada ya que al limitar las opciones de trabajo y el pago por estas, lo primero que se pierde es el servicio profesional al más alto nivel; sin embargo, tal vez sea algo bueno para la profesión ya que esto resultará en que aquellos intérpretes de mayor capacidad buscarán otros campos de trabajo y llegarán a  competir desde abajo en algunos campos como conferencia, medios de comunicación y militar, y también impactarán la calidad y la paga en otros sectores de la interpretación como el médico y el comunitario.  En resumidas cuentas, va a depender del intérprete mismo. Cuánto estará cada individuo dispuesto a prepararse, aceptar el cambio, ajustarse, y triunfar, o por otro lado, y eso pasará irremediablemente con algunos más mediocres, cuánto estará un individuo dispuesto a conformarse, a vivir peor, a tener menos, para poder seguir aceptando trabajo en los juzgados.

Recuerden que al principio dije que esto no abarcaba toda la interpretación jurídica, solo la judicial. Aún quedarán los abogados particulares, las entrevistas en sus despachos, las declaraciones bajo protesta o juramento, la preparación de testigos, las visitas a los reclusorios, las traducciones a la vista, donde la competencia será ardua debido a que los mejores intérpretes judiciales se volcarán sobre esta opción, y también los conformistas del párrafo anterior; Consideren que estos últimos van a deprimir el mercado de honorarios al tratar de cobrar muy por debajo de lo que cobran los intérpretes de primer plano.  ¿Quién ganará la batalla?  Eso se decidirá individualmente, por ello estoy sonando esta alarma desde ahora. Ya es tiempo que nos demos cuenta a dónde parece dirigirse la interpretación judicial y ya es hora de prepararse para otros sectores de la interpretación y para ir seleccionando a los abogados que van a ser los clientes primarios en ese futuro, ahora hay tiempo de desarrollar un vínculo de confianza, para educarlos sobre las ventajas de tener un buen intérprete, sobre la importancia de pagar bien por un servicio bien prestado.

Ya les he compartido lo que observo en el poder judicial, ahora les pido me comenten aquello que ustedes ven.

The Professional Interpreter: One Profession. One Real Profession.

June 9, 2012 § 6 Comments

Dear Colleagues,

It seems to me that a week never goes by without a colleague telling me that he or she was misunderstood, humiliated, obstructed, or underpaid while doing his or her job.  Some of them react with anger, others with frustration, a few seem resigned, but a growing number of our fellow interpreters have been reacting to these real-life situations by taking action, doing something about it. Finally, interpreters finding a solution to this “never-ending” comedy of errors where the interpreter is often an unwilling character.

As those of you who know me personally (and many others have figured out by reading this blog) know, I have always considered myself a professional at the same level as all those who we provide our services to:  Scientists, politicians, attorneys, diplomats, physicians, military officers, school principals; and I try to act that way when  I provide my interpretation services.  I feel that we should all consider ourselves a real profession, perhaps even a profession above many others as we are also a little bit of an art. For this reason, when I first heard of InterpretAmerica a couple of years ago, I immediately fell in love with the idea and threw my support (mostly moral I admit) behind the incredibly hard work that Katharine Allen and Barry Olsen are doing.

I attended InterpretAmerica last year. It was like a dream, something you can only find in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.  The medical interpreters were there sitting next to the court interpreters, the military interpreters were having a conversation with the agencies; the equipment companies were there having a chat with the educational institutions, and the conference interpreters were sharing experiences, and learning, from the community interpreters.  This was unreal:  I saw everybody I know and work with in my different interpretation fields, all under one roof!  The colleagues from the east coast were there, so were those from the west coast, the European Parliament, the professional organizations, I saw board members and influential colleagues from ATA, AIIC, NAJIT, IMIA, and many more.

Next week, InterpretAmerica will hold its Third North American Summit on June 15 and 16 in beautiful Monterey, California.  Looking at the schedule and list of speakers, it looks like this will be the best summit so far. The speaker list includes colleagues like Sign Language interpreter Jack Jason (Marlee Matlin’s interpreter) Andrew Clifford from Glendon College, Renee Jourdenais from MIIS, my good friend Jonathan Levy from Cyracom with a military interpreting perspective that will probably be new to may in attendance, Barbara Moser-Mercer from the University of Geneva, and others of the same level.

Unfortunately, this year I will not be able to attend the summit due to professional obligations, but I will be checking in regularly with many of my friends who will be there.  As you know, I have devoted this blog to everything important and useful to our profession. This is one of the most important efforts in the history of interpretation in the United States. I encourage you to attend the summit, to exchange ideas, to take those ideas back home where you should share them with your colleagues.  And to those of you who cannot attend this year’s summit, I invite you to set aside the dates of next year’s gathering and go. In the meantime, stay in touch with those attending, and vote for InterpretAmerica in the Chase Bank campaign to qualify for a $250,000.00 grant.  I invite all my colleagues who are attending the summit, or have attended one in the past, to share their experiences with this movement  started by Katharine and Barry.

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